Shadow Complex is an Xbox Live Arcade title developed by the Epic Studios owned Chair Entertainment. This is an interesting twist since Epic are known for making specifically first person shooters and it's a nice change of pace to see the Unreal engine actually being used for something else. It's also the first venture into the downloadable gamespace and it could be seen as a gamble. Could this game be a new epic in its own right?
The story of Shadow Complex involves some sort of secret organization with intentions of overtaking the government by constructing super soldiers in an underground complex. The main character, Jason Flemming, ends up accidentally discovering this complex with his girlfriend Claire. Not that the names are at all important, since the story is barely there. This is kind of Ironic considering it's supposed to bridge the story between two novels by Orson Scott Card. It seems that maybe a follower of the books may get something out of this but it just seems really bland and generic.
What there is however is great gameplay. For those who are familiar with Super Metroid or anything in the Castlevania series, it's very familiar territory here. Jason starts armed with only a flashlight and climbing kit. As the game progresses a whole arsenal of weapons are unlocked, letting Jason get back to earlier areas of the complex to explore secret spots containing power-ups for health, armour and weapons. There's tons of exploration to be had here, especially for hardcore completionists. Shadow Complex is really good at rewarding the player for exploring as much as possible, making Jason stronger than ever. There is also a level system in the game that makes the player more accurate and deadly as the game progresses beyond only upgrades. This is fairly insignificant in regards to accuracy though as it only applies to the depth based combat of the game.
In regards to the combat within the game, there's a decent amount of variety. The secondary weapons allow players to dispatch enemies in lots of different ways and it's always very satisfying. The same can be said for the main weapons too, except the experience is even better. One of the reasons for this is that the enemies are well paced and the bosses also offer unique challenges. While this is true, there are also retro throwbacks to some classic boss battles. Most involving either super soldiers that bombard the player with grenades or rockets, or a large robot that needs to be taken down using the environment.
Another note of production is the appearance of the game in general. The game looks really great with full 3D modelled characters and backgrounds, although the gameplay is all on a 2D plane, commonly known as 2.5D. There's also a wide variety of areas in the game which is nice since players don't have to look at small corridors all game. There are large caves and wide open vistas on the surface with gorgeous lighting. Character models are also smoothly animated. However, one gripe with the visuals is that when enemies die, they ragdoll very awkwardly and sort of spoils the atmosphere. The sound is also really nice. The game has a really nice soundtrack that works well in the background of the game, albeit fairly generic sounding. There's also really great weapon sound effects in the game as well, making the weapons feel like they've got some weight to them when they're fired.
In terms of online play there isn't any direct multiplayer. There is however somewhat of a pseudo-competitive mode as the game offers leaderboards which can be compared to your friends. For example the closest competitor in headshots will show up every few times a headshot is scored. The same goes for melee kills and other combat style takedowns. There's probably about 10 hours of main game to be had here, which for an Arcade title is pretty proficient. There's also a lot of bonuses to collect which serves as a good incentive for going back through the game or getting 100 percent completion.
With the online downloadable space thriving in today's market it's a really nice thing to see some retro revival done really well. Shadow Complex is a great way to finish off the summer of arcade with great graphics and sound on a classic style game. All in all, Shadow Complex is a fun, retro-style game that's really worth playing.